Cyrano

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By Philip Pearce

IT’S INTERESTING the way that PacRep’s current season takes two central heroes of early 20th century European drama, Peter Pan and Cyrano de Bergerac, and gives them each a new look. Plus the frank theatricality of a handful of actors playing a whole lot of the characters involved in the stories of their lives.

In the June/July production of Peter and the Starcatcher twelve actors played more than 30 roles in a swashbuckling prequel to the August/July musical version of Peter Pan.

Now there’s an exciting new version of Cyrano, which tells the well-loved tale but pares nearly 50 speaking roles down to 27 to be played by a cast of nine.

When you think about it, Peter and Cyrano are cut from the same mold. Both are chock full of swaggering self-confidence, both are supernaturally brilliant swordsmen, both are sworn enemies of the social status quo. “I want,” Cyrano explains at one point, “to reduce the number of bows I have to make in a day.” Peter doesn’t want to grow up and have to make that kind of decision in the first place.

Like many another theater addict of my generation, I’ve always loved Rostand’s three hour, five-act marathon of moonlit romance, spontaneous poetry and dashing swordplay. But Michael Hollinger’s slick new translation and the fresh two-act adaptation of the text he shares with Aaron Posner make for a fast-paced and thoroughly satisfying evening in the Outdoor Forest Theater.

In a recent interview, Hollinger notes that the original script’s world of 17th century Paris isn’t exactly familiar territory to 21st century audiences. “It was important to me that the play speak to us, here and now, and therefore I made myself the litmus test of what would be accessible, immediate, funny, poignant, and so on.”

So there’s little left of Rostand’s blank verse or the sections of social comment on French society of the 1600’s. What comes across vividly is the central ironic dilemma of a man with a face so unsightly he can only use his supreme genius for poetic love talk to push his lady love into the arms of a handsome but tongue-tied rival.

Pacific Rep executive director Stephen Moorer is an active, touching and consistently funny Cyrano. He mines every vein of wit in the new script and catches most of the underlying pathos without ever slipping into the lilting Gielgud/Burton attitude and voice adopted by some Cyranos I’ve seen. His dying attack against social convention and phony officialdom is no reflective elegy, it’s a ruthless sword fight to the death.

This new version makes it easier to explore character motivations and navigate some of the finer points of 17th century French civic and military life by expanding the role of Le Bret. He’s no longer just Cyrano’s trusty military buddy; he’s a wise narrator who steps out of the action and into a spotlight to explain things directly to us ticket holders. It works admirably. Unlike Rostand’s audience but just like Shakespeare’s, we’ve reached a point where we like it when somebody pauses the story and comments on what’s going on. As always, Jeffrey T Heyer is clear and believable in the role.

The remainder of the players are busy and excellent, moving nimbly through two or three roles apiece. Jennifer Le Blanc is a beautiful, passionate Roxane, so swept up in a duet of Cyrano’s poetry and Gascon-cadet Christian de Neuvillette’s good looks that it takes her fourteen years to discover she’s been in love with the soul of one and only the body of the other.

Justin Gordon is an appealing Christian, a fresh military recruit who’s closely in touch with his feelings but clueless in expressing them. I liked his last-minute wide-eyed explosion of terror at having to woo the lovely Roxane, even coached by the eloquent Cyrano.

D Scott McQuiston is a bubbly and comically endearing Ragueneau, a pastry chef and would-be poet, who manages (in the interest of trimming down cast size) to shout protests at his wife for wrapping her pastries in the texts of his verses without her ever actually appearing on stage.

A small and energetic Andrew Mazer is convincingly tipsy as a bibulous cadet named Ligniere.  Lewis Rhames is willowy and comically inept as a plumed Parisian popinjay named De Valvert, one of a string of candidates for the hand of the fair Roxane. More purposeful and pompous is Michael Storm as another suitor, De Guiche, commander of Cyrano and Christian’s Gascon battalion. The versatile and surprising Garland Thompson moves effortlessly through five different roles, most notably in drag as Roxane’s busybody and sweet-toothed duenna and then in Rosary and wimple as the chatty, broom-wielding Sister Marthe.

Kenneth Kelleher’s direction manages, again and again, to make the nine-member cast look and act like a big crowd. My favorite segment of Act 1 is a sequence that doesn’t even happen in the old Rostand version. Cyrano, high and happy at some fond attention from his beloved Roxane, learns that a hundred sword-wielding thugs are planning a midnight ambush at the Porte de Nesle. He vows to bare his sword and carve them up, single handedly, one by one. Rostand’s script simply reports his success after the fact. Kelleher, Moorer and fight director Justin Gordon show it happening in a shadowy ballet of flashing swordplay which proves that perfectly timed farce can be both hilarious and beautiful.

I loved the show, but I had minor problems with the set design. The big outdoor theater stage allows for a lot of depth and width. But is the backstage area so limited that ingredients of Patrick McEvoy’s settings need to be stored in plain view instead of waiting in the wings to be wheeled on when required? The big quarter moon awaited its appearance in the balcony/garden scene from a position way upstage. And an unchanging background of blue-green wooden fretwork units gave a sense of clutter.

That said, it’s a must see, but take plenty of coats and blankets. It continues through October 15th.

 

 

Weekly Magazine

THIS WEEK

DISTINGUSHED ARTISTS SERIES presents a Schubertiade, a recreation of an evening with the composer and friends in early 19th century Vienna. MONTEREY SYMPHONY welcomes guest conductor Jung-Ho Pak to the podium for a program of regional premieres. (See below.) SANTA CRUZ CHAMBER PLAYERS welcome the return of MUSA Chinese Baroque, featuring music of that era from China. BASS-BARITONE CHRISTIAN PURSELL sings to benefit vocal music at Cabrillo College on Sunday. 33RD ANNUAL SANTA CRUZ JAZZ FESTIVAL at Cabrillo College. FOUR OLD BROADS opens West Coast premiere at Mountain Community. LADYSMITH BLACK MAMBAZO (above) returns to Santa Cruz. MASTERS OF SOUL at World Theater in Seaside. For links to these and dozens of other live performance events, click on the display ads, left, or on our CALENDAR

CABRILLO FESTIVAL 2019 ANNOUNCED

CRISTIAN MĂCELARU’S third season emphasizes women artists and composers. Programs include three World Premiere original commissions: Kristen Kuster’s When There are Nine, an homage to Ruth Bader Ginsberg featuring Room Full of Teeth vocal ensemble, Clarice Assad’s New Interactive Educational Work and Preben Antonsen’s Psalm Without Words. In addition are two US premieres, eight West Coast premieres and twelve composers-in-residence. The August 11 concert consists of two major works by Wynton Marsalis, his Violin Concerto, featuring soloist Nicola Benedetti, and Blues Symphony, with the composer in attendance. For complete Festival details, click HERE    

JUNG-HO PAK TO MAKE MONTEREY SYMPHONY DEBUT

THE LOCAL RESIDENT with an international conducting career makes his long-anticipated debut appearance this weekend in a program of local premieres. Continuing the Symphony’s ocean-themed “Sound Waves” season, Pak will begin by conducting And God created great whales by Alan Hovhaness, a “conceptual” piece that combines the natural songs of humpback whales with orchestra. (Pak cites Einojuhani Rautavaara’s Cantus Articus with its bird songs as another example of combining the sounds of nature with composed music.)

Also with the sounds of oceanic mammals, Pak has included Stella Sung’s Oceana, a short concert work about ocean ecology that underscores the destructive noise pollution of the oceans, from military and industrial activities, that disorients the great mammals of the sea. As a response to Sung’s music, videographer Annie Crawley created an undersea video that will be screened with the music. Pak says both Sung and Crawley will be in attendance, and oceanographer John Ryan from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute will join him on stage for the pre-concert lectures one hour before the Saturday and Sunday performances.

Pak has performed Tan Dun’s Water Concerto many times; this production will feature percussionist Christopher S Lamb, who premiered the piece in 1998 in New York. “Tan Dun is the at the forefront of ethnomusicological work, and the most successful,” Pak says. “You can almost hear the orchestra speaking Chinese. He elevates the simplest and most universal—water—to the highest degree.” Two percussionists of the Symphony will join Lamb to either side with bowls of water lit from the bottom. “It feels like you’re watching a ceremony, a Japanese tea service, something holy.” The composer dedicated the 25-minute work to Toru Takemitsu, the greatest Japanese composer of the latter 20th century.

Pak’s program concludes with Shostakovich’s Ninth Symphony of 1945, a work that nominally celebrates the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in World War II at unfathomable cost in lives but turns out to be a sarcastic joke. In 1946, a critical article by musicologist Izrail Nestyev was published: “What remains to be proposed is that the Ninth Symphony is a kind of respite, a light and amusing interlude between Shostakovich’s significant creations, a temporary rejection of great, serious problems for the sake of playful, filigree-trimmed trifles. But is it the right time for a great artist to go on vacation, to take a break from contemporary problems?” That is exactly what Shostakovich predicted and exactly what he had taken upon his shoulders: to speak truth to power through music. SM

SUNSET CENTER SEEKS DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR

FOR DETAILS, click HERE  

HAPPY 75TH DAME KIRI

KIRI TE KANAWA was born Claire Mary Teresa Rawstron in the small New Zealand seaside town of Gisborne. The birth child of a native Maori man and a woman of European descent was adopted at five weeks of age by a local couple, Tom and Nell Te Kanawa, he a Maori and she with family ties to the British Isles. (Georg Solti at the piano.)

 

STEEL AND STRINGS

REVIVING THE CLEVELAND ORCHESTRA’S GLORY. Conductor Franz Welser-Möst has led the way, not without controversy. Click HERE  

REMEMBERING JACQUES LOUSSIER, 1934-2019

CONSERVATORY-TRAINED musician caused a sensation in 1959 when he established a trio with the string bass player Pierre Michelot and the drummer Christian Garros and recorded his sophisticated jazzed-up interpretations of the works of Johann Sebastian Bach.

 

HOW PASSIVE LISTENING TO MUSIC IMPAIRS CREATIVITY

BACKGROUND MUSIC dulls the senses. Click HERE   

KENNY RANKIN, 1940-2009

TEN YEARS ON, taken too soon.

 

NEXT WEEK

JEWEL THEATRE opens Breaking the Code at the Colligan. PIANIST WU HAN plays Tchaikovsky and Schubert in Carmel. ARIA presents ‘She Sings’ in Monterey. SANTA CRUZ BAROQUE FEST hosts an organ recital at Peace United. SC CHORALE hosts Cantabella Children’s Chorus from Pleasanton. GOLDEN GATE CHAMBER PLAYERS at Hidden Valley. PG POPS ORCHESTRA in Pacific Grove. BAY BELLES in Carmel.

FOLLOW US ON TWITTER: @PerfArtsMtyBay

Scott MacClelland, editor; Rebecca CR Brooks, associate editor

 

 

 

Weekly Magazine

THIS WEEK

LIVE CLASSICAL & JAZZ at UC Santa Cruz. Basketball legend KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR to appear at Sunset Center. BEAUTY & THE BEAST for kids comes to the Fox in Salinas. SANTA CRUZ COUNTY YOUTH SYMPHONY joins Family Concert at the Civic. SMOLDERING UKES at Hidden Valley. ENSEMBLE MONTEREY schedules a long-winded Schubert divertissement, better for players than audiences. JORMA KAUKONEN (below) returns to Santa Cruz. For links to these and dozens of other live performance events, click on the display ads, left, or on our CALENDAR

 

TOO MANY FESTIVALS?

MONTEREY PENINSULA residents’ complaints get louder each year. Same in Coachella Valley and Edinburgh. Click HERE   

PLUM JOB JUST UP THE ROAD

THEATREWORKS SILICON VALLEY seeking new Artistic Director. Founding AD Robert Kelley to retire after 50 years in leadership. Click HERE  

THE ASTOUNDING CAREER OF ANDRÉ PREVIN

CLASSICAL CONDUCTOR, JAZZ MASTER, CONCERT & OSCAR-WINNING FILM COMPOSER (photo, top of page) was once told he had no talent. Click HERE  Below he rehearses a youth orchestra. 

 

A.I. SMARTPHONE ‘FINISHES’ THE “UNFINISHED” SYMPHONY

SINCE THERE is nothing wrong with it, is that really necessary? Click HERE   

REMEMBERING DOMINICK ARGENTO

CHERISHED AMERICAN composer of lyric opera, including The Boor, The Voyage of Edgar Allen Poe, Dream of Valentino and Casanova’s Homecoming. He won the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for his song cycle, From the Diary of Virginia Woolf. Click HERE  

THE POWER OF MUSIC

*IF I SHOULD EVER DIE, God forbid, let this be my epitaph:
THE ONLY PROOF HE NEEDED
FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD
WAS MUSIC

ACCORDING TO: Susan Sontag, *Kurt Vonnegut, Edna St Vincent Millay, Friedrich Nietzsche, Arthur Schopenhauer, Virginia Woolf, Victor Hugo, Aldous Huxley, Anaïs Nin, Walt Whitman and Oliver Sacks. Click HERE

WHITE RABBIT 1967

 

FRESH REVIEW

YOUTH MUSIC MONTEREY in Carmel. Click HERE

NEXT WEEK

SCHUBERTIADE, featuring mezzo Solmaaz Adeli, at Distinguished Artists. SC CHAMBER PLAYERS hosts MUSA Chinese Baroque. SANTA CRUZ JAZZ FESTIVAL at Cabrillo College. MONTEREY SYMPHONY in Carmel. REFER MADNESS opens at Paper Wing. MASTERS OF SOUL at World Theater.

FOLLOW US ON TWITTER: @PerfArtsMtyBay

Scott MacClelland, editor; Rebecca CR Brooks, associate editor